Video of Air Canada pilot demonstration unrelated to Israel-Hamas war

A video of Air Canada pilots holding signs in a formation in front of an airport is accompanied by social media claims the employees were protesting events surrounding the war between Israel and Hamas. This is false; the clip predates the recent explosion of violence in the Middle East and the pilot's union said it depicts informational picketing during contract negotiations.

"Canada pilots stand for Palestine," says the text over the thumbnail of a TikTok which has been viewed more than 200,300 times since October 21, 2023.

The video shows Air Canada pilots in uniform holding signs in a line across from an airport terminal. The text over the video claims the clip shows pilots protesting the dismissal of a fellow employee, who was fired due to his expression of support for Palestinian causes and condemnation of Israel.

<span>Screenshot of a TikTok, taken October 31, 2023</span>
Screenshot of a TikTok, taken October 31, 2023

Israel launched its most intense military campaign ever on Gaza after suffering the bloodiest attack in its history when Hamas gunmen killed some 1,400 people on October 7  in a violent cross-border raid, according to Israeli officials.

Warplanes continued a relentless barrage of strikes on Gaza, where the Hamas-run health ministry said on October 31 at least 8,500 people have been killed, including over 3,500 children.

Protests in support of Palestinians and to call for the release of Israeli hostages have taken place all over the world, including in Toronto.

Canadian media reported Mostafa Ezzo -- who worked as a pilot for Air Canada -- posted pictures on social media wearing motifs of the Palestinian flag and carrying a sign at a protest with the Israeli flag in a trash can and the slogan, "keep the world clean."

After a backlash over the images, Air Canada announced in a post from its official account on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Ezzo had been pulled from service on October 9 and fired on October 11 (archived here and here)

However, the demonstration of Air Canada pilots seen in the video is unrelated to Ezzo's release from the company. Representatives from the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) told AFP the video shows an informational picket in front of Toronto Pearson International Airport amid current bargaining with Air Canada over new contracts.

"Recent informational pickets held by the Air Canada pilots are for informational purposes only, in relation to our current contract negotiations with our Company," said First Officer Charlene Hudy, the Air Canada ALPA Master Executive Council spokeswoman, in an email to AFP on October 30.

Video taken before October 7

Additional TikTok posts using the footage do not mention Ezzo, but spread with captions implying the protest was held in support of Palestinians, while another poster claimed it was showing solidarity with Israel. But the clip was already online before the recent escalation of hostilities.

Some of the misleading clips include the handle for the official TikTok account of the British Daily Mail newspaper. The publication had shared the same video with the caption: "Pilots stand for the MOST peaceful protest in Toronto airport" on October 2, several days before the catalyzing attack by Hamas on Israel (archived here).

<span>Screenshot of the Daily Mail TikTok, taken October 31, 2023, with elements highlighted by AFP</span>
Screenshot of the Daily Mail TikTok, taken October 31, 2023, with elements highlighted by AFP
<span>Screenshot of a TikTok, taken October 31, 2023, with elements highlighted by AFP</span>
Screenshot of a TikTok, taken October 31, 2023, with elements highlighted by AFP

According to press releases from ALPA and media reports at the time, Air Canada pilots held their informational picket at Pearson on September 29, calling for wage improvements and protesting cuts in service.

Close examination of the signs the pilots are holding in the incorrectly captioned videos reveal the placards include slogans such as, "Don't cancel routes. Keep experienced pilots," which are phrases seen in photos from the September 29 picket posted on the Air Canada Pilots website (archived here).

Local media reported and ALPA confirmed there were further informational pickets at Calgary International Airport on October 28 and Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport in Montreal on October 30.

Since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, AFP has fact-checked numerous other posts claiming to depict demonstrations related to the conflict. More of AFP's debunking of misleading information related to the conflict can be found here.